A 17 year-old has been arrested and charged with arson for the burning down of the historic Østre Porsgrunn church on April 11.
Police had originally searched for four suspects, two of whom were seen running from the crime scene, while two others were seen on a moped nearby. The fire is believed to have been started by someone wheeling two plastic trash containers from the nearby church hall and into the wall of the church itself before setting them alight.
The investigation has received a number of tip-offs from the local populace, and the police were reported earlier this week to have names for one or more of those suspected of carrying out the crime. They also informed the media that they were checking the alibis of a number of potential suspects. The arrested suspect, who denies all charges, has been reported to have written on social networking site Facebook just before the incident took place that we was going to “go out to play pyromaniac,” according to news agency NTB.
Jon Borgen, speaking on behalf of the local district police, told NTB that he “does not rule out further arrests.” Police will apply to hold the suspect in custody for one week on Friday. The police confirmed that the suspect was already known to them. The 17 year-old’s lawyer, Marius Haugstoga, told website TA.no that his client’s arrest had put a “big strain” on him, and was “not something nice.”
The warden of Østre Porsgrunn church, Johannes Sørhaug, commented to NTB that he was “happy that the amount of work and resources that the police have put in looks to have lead to something.” He stated that it would be “absolutely hideous if it is the case that a 17 year-old has done this,” and “very embarrassing both for the person that did this and his family and friends.” Speaking also to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), Sørhaug described it as “almost the worst scenario I could have imagined that a youth would have done this.”
Sørhaug also spoke to NTB of the “great local passion to get a new church building in place.” The church ruins have been combed for remains that can be used in a new church, and work on plans for a new building will begin soon.
Østre Porsgrunn’s wooden church was burned to the ground on April 11, just after celebrating its 250th anniversary. Several other churches in the area were later vandalized. Last week, the Norwegian Fire Protection Association claimed that the church should have had sprinklers installed as part of 20 year-old regulations.
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